Post image for NY Theater Event: BEHIND THE CURTAIN: A VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE BEGINNINGS OF BROADWAY (Peculiar Works Project)

by Gregory Bernard on May 18, 2021

in Theater-New York,Virtual

This week’s recommendation for THEATER NERDS:

Behind the Curtain is a unique look at New York City’s earliest theaters—the birth of Broadway—through images of its locations, its builders and managers, and the actors who made history on its stages. Join downtown theater-maker Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Project this Thursday, May 20, 2021 at 7pm ET for a virtual tour up Broadway and the Bowery from Lower Manhattan to Astor Place. Inspired by a rare 1851 book Before and Behind the Curtain by William Knight Northall, Lewis shares the writer’s passion for the struggles and the growth of theater in New York City, from a single venue to an entire Theater District. See the sites today where the first theaters once stood, why they succeeded, and what became of them, with over-the-top anecdotes from the book and over 100 images. For anyone interested in American popular theater and its NYC history, this is the down-n-dirty story of how the Great White Way was born!

Behind the Curtain
Peculiar Works Project on Zoom
60 minutes | for tickets, visit Behind the Curtain
all proceeds support the charitable programs of EAG
and NYC’s performing artists in need

Behind the Curtain – Why Broadway?

by Ralph Lewis

Everyone who’s ever loved the theater knows when it started for them. For most, it was that first show they saw or were cast in, usually a Broadway musical. Almost everyone has a theater origin story that involves Broadway. But I’m surprised by how few theater-lovers know the history of how great American theater originated along The Broad Way.

I discovered this wonderful book, Before & Behind the Curtain, written in 1851, and the writer starts by saying how important theater is at that very moment, and he’s just got to tell us about it. I’ve heard that perennially throughout my own career. William Knight Northall didn’t know it would become Broadway, but he knew he was onto something. And it sent me on a quest to find out what came before and after his moment.

I learned why so few people know about our theatrical history – it’s hard to find! A lot of the documentation burned up in one fire or another. And those records that survived were often contradictory. No one knew everything that was going on, but that didn’t stop them from claiming they did. And theater wasn’t the revered institution that it is today. People were loath to say too much about it, because theater was the devil’s work.

I’ve had an incredible experience putting together the pieces of America’s first theater. From Bowling Green to Astor Place, some rarely seen photographs will take you on a virtual tour through the original Broadway theaters of New York City (the first theaters in America). Highlighting how the industry engages with other social, commercial and geographic forces, this Show Business journey is a metaphor for urban life in America and how diverse communities shape vibrant cities. Some wild times were had by all!

I live in a 200-year-old Federal-style house on The Bowery, so I have a personal interest in the City’s history. In this time of hyper-change all around us, knowing how NYC theater coalesced into a legendary district is even more fascinating and instructive to me; and I look forward to sharing it with other lovers of Broadway. Shouldn’t everyone know its origin story?

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